Diocesan Synod members gathered online for the first meeting of 2022 on Saturday 12 March.
The meeting began with Dwelling in the Word, led by Julie Dziegel, Vice-Chair of the Diocesan Board of Finance. There was a time of prayer with a special focus on Ukraine and those living through war and unrest in other parts of the world.
Prior to the meeting, members had the opportunity to submit questions and then ask supplementary questions during the synod. Bishop Steven responded to questions from members on both sides of the Conversion Therapy debate and the current government consultation.
Bishop Steven introduced the main meeting giving time to the situation in Ukraine, highlighting the “terrible act of unprovoked aggression” by Russia, the future impact on the UK, Europe and the world and the thousands of Ukrainian refugees fleeing for their lives. He called for the UK government to respond with the same generosity, urgency and flexibility as other European countries and for the church to “rise to the challenge of these times.”
Highlighting his series of visits around the diocese, Bishop Steven shared snapshots of the listening and learning from the time spent with deanery clergy, lay leaders and community projects:
“So far I have found a church that has been down but certainly not out… a church where hope and determination are returning… There have been signs of a new spring time and a new determination and resilience is being born.”
Bishop Steven recognised the continued efforts of clergy, lay ministers and church officers over the past two years offering his deep appreciation of their work. Acknowledging this unwavering effort and the impact on the energy levels of clergy, Bishop Steven noted that the capacity of the church is lower than before the pandemic and is taking longer to recover than anticipated.
“We will be navigating a tension in the coming months between patience and urgency… We will need to rebuild slowly, and on the other hand we will continue to face urgent needs and questions which will demand the best that we can bring. There are no simple solutions to navigating this tension.”
Bishop Steven urged all clergy and church leaders of the importance of taking time away from work each week and the need to take holidays using Lent as a time for spiritual renewal and healing.
Closing his address, Bishop Steven pointed to this year’s Come and See Lent initiative drawing deeper into the Lord’s Prayer and shared a video of Fitzwilliam College Cambridge Choir singing the Lord’s Prayer in Ukrainian.
The Revd Tina Molyneux, Head of Discipleship and Social Justice, introduced the recent developments to the Personal Discipleship Plan and Come and See. Tina highlighted the work with the national Church and other dioceses seeking to expand the Personal Discipleship Plan initiative across the Church of England and extending Come and See for children and schools in the diocese.
“It encourages you to notice where God is in your life and where you might share your gifts with the world.”
In a video from the national Church, lay and ordained people in the diocese shared how the Personal Discipleship Plan has supported them in their everyday faith, sharing Jesus with the people around them, and overcoming the misconception that this is always expressed by being on a church volunteer rota.
“Enabling everyday faith is so important because for too long the Church can be accused of being inward-looking. We only actually gather to be sent out, and everything we do is for the sake of God’s world. So, our Monday to Saturday is so important.”
Christ Church, Oxford
Bishop Steven and the Revd Canon Richard Peers, the Sub-Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, provided an update on the events of Christ Church, bringing to conclusion four years of difficulty. Bishop Steven highlighted the announcement from the Cathedral, at the beginning of March, of settlements under which Dean Martyn Percy would step down at the end of April.
“This has taken a tremendous toll on all concerned… It is likely that the pain and distress will continue for some time to come. I commend all concerned to the prayers of the diocese.”
Reporting on issues raised with the Bishop’s Council alleging systemic failures in diocesan safeguarding, Bishop Steven confirmed that this had been taken extremely seriously. Evidence of systemic failures had not been found and further suggestions are being explored by the diocesan safeguarding panel. In addition, he reported an agreement by the Bishop’s Council that there should be an independent lessons learned review, which should begin in the coming months.
“After what has been a difficult season for all concerned, I would hope that we would all now want to work together to bring about as much reconciliation and peace as is possible.”
The Sub-Dean shared an update from the Cathedral including the recruitment of a Diocesan Canon and an upcoming governance review: “I am confident that we can think creatively about the joint foundation at Christ Church, which for me is one of the great joys of being here.”
Richard emphasised the hopeful work of the Cathedral in building positive relationships with the community and the importance of this in helping the Cathedral to move forward: “Every welcome that we give I say, this is ‘Your Cathedral’. By coming to visit us, praying for us and inviting us to preach in your parish you help us to make that a reality.”
Living in Love and Faith
The Revd Anthony Buckley and the Revd Gill Barrow Jones, LLF facilitators in Oxford and Milton Keynes, reported on the national and local engagement with the LLF process and the work of the eight facilitators providing training sessions, supporting individuals, and visiting deanery synods. Gill highlighted examples of positive engagement with the LLF course at local churches in the diocese and the resources available to engage young people with the process. The Revd Anthony Buckley said;
“It is right to consider what part the Diocesan Synod can play in being part of the way the Church with our wonderful heritage of scripture, tradition and reason at local deanery and diocesan and national levels, engages with difference and diversity and how this engagement reflects the love of God in the body of Christ and the world in which we are sent.”
Hannah Ling, Social Justice Adviser, introduced facilitated groups for synod members to spend time listening to one another and reflecting on how to deepen engagement with the process at parish and individual level. A substantial amount of time was allowed, which enabled a series of comments to be shared and questions put to panel members. The questions included discussions at the House of Bishops, the impact of the pandemic on the LLF process timeline and the process for feeding back to the national LLF team.
In his inaugural speech, Sir Hector Sants, Chair of the Board of Finance, shared the financial year end results, paying thanks to his predecessor. Reporting a modest surplus, he highlighted the factors influencing this being the commitment of parishes to continue paying Parish Share and the inability - due to the pandemic and contractor availability - to carry out the planned level of work to clergy housing.
Hector also shared some of the key areas he will be focusing on in his role including improving the transparency of the financial and management information:
“I see a key element of my role being to continuously challenge the way our financial resources are used and encourage us to be transparent and as clear as possible with our financial information and try to ensure that our communication and engagement around these topics address the questions and we are seen as listening to the concerns people have.”
The Bishop of Reading, the Rt Revd Olivia Graham, attended the first fully hybrid General Synod in February and presented a whistlestop tour of the three-day meeting, covering key items and pressing world issues. These included changes to faculty rules enabling easier decision making for PCCs in relation to low carbon initiatives, racial justice, slavery and human trafficking, the persecution of Christians, and drafting legislation on streamlining and simplifying governance in the Church to improve clarity of transparency on decision-making.
Reflection and blessing
The Revd Sue Scott delivered a summary of the meeting, again remembering the overshadowing war in Ukraine and shared a reflection about inclusivity from a welcome message at Coventry Cathedral.
“We have to find a way forward as brothers and sisters in Christ and build a truly inclusive church which sees all as blessed and perfect creations of God.”
Bishop Steven closed the meeting with a blessing and encouraged members to continue the important and useful conversations after the meeting and in the coming days.